Monthly Archives: November 2022

Believe It or Not?


The story of Jesus’ birth, as told in the book of Luke, started about a year before the Nativity scene we celebrate occurred. Instead, Luke began with the story of John the Baptist’s birth, who was a cousin of Jesus’ and would grow up to preach and teach to the masses and baptize Jesus at the beginning of Jesus’ adult ministry. John’s father, Zechariah was a priest, and both he and John’s mother Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes. They were considered “very old” by the standards of their society and had been unable to have children. One day, Zechariah went into the temple alone to burn incense to the Lord when an angel appeared before him. He was “startled and gripped with fear,” but the angel said, “do not be afraid.” The angel told Zechariah that Elizabeth would have their child, and he would be “a joy and delight” to them. That he would be great in the sight of God and would prepare a way for the Lord. (Luke 1). 

After the angel completed his monologue about how amazing John would be, Zechariah said, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” The angel didn’t take kindly to Zechariah’s question, and responded, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.” So it was that Zechariah didn’t speak until eight days after John’s birth when they arrived at the temple, and he confirmed in writing that the baby was named John. Only then was Zechariah’s tongue set free, and he began to praise God. The people were in awe saying, “’What then is this child going to be?’” For the Lord’s hand was with him.” 

I’ve always wanted to believe that I would be like Mary in the story of Jesus’ birth, and willingly agree to follow God’s plan. I’ve always thought it must’ve been nice to receive such wondrous signs of God’s presence and be told the exact will of God in specific circumstances. But I’m pretty sure I would’ve actually played the part of Zechariah. A magnificent being appeared before him and had only good things to say about his unborn child. But after Zechariah got over the initial terror, he basically said, I don’t believe you. And I, being a person who will overanalyze the slightest details and silently question someone when they give me a compliment, would’ve said the same: “I don’t believe you. I don’t trust you. I don’t think you’re telling the truth. I don’t think that’s really going to happen.” 

God tells us he knows us, he loves us, we are his children, and he only wants the best for us both in his Word and through other people’s actions. That God wants us to seek him for guidance and comfort. But if we’re honest with ourselves, we may admit that while God’s sentiments are lovely, we secretly don’t believe them. God couldn’t love us if he really knew us. God wouldn’t want a relationship with us. Why would the God of the universe care about us? We don’t usually speak our doubts aloud but sit in silence like Zechariah and continue to harbor the thought, “I don’t believe you, God.” 

Zechariah came to believe, but maybe it wasn’t at the moment John was born and the angel’s words came to fruition. Perhaps Zechariah began his journey to accept God’s good word after he confessed his unbelief. That God used the next nine months to teach Zechariah that God loved him and only had the best interests of his family and his child at heart. So maybe we should take God at his word. When God tells us how much he loves us, we can say “I believe you, God. At least, I’m trying.” Let us pray that God helps us believe his good word to us today and every day.  

Holding Hands in Faith


Last Sunday, we experienced a wonderful worship service at our church Faithbridge Presbyterian. Pastor Cheryl Taylor delivered a thought-provoking and uplifting sermon. The Praise Team led us in contemporary songs and a couple of hymns. Sometimes, it’s not always obvious when we, as Presbyterians, feel the Holy Spirit moving because we are pretty staid for the most part, but the enthusiasm with which we sang “Blessed Assurance” offered a good clue. After we finished singing, Pastor Cheryl suggested that we hold hands as we prayed. Pastor Cheryl came to our church in 2021, after we returned in person from the Covid shutdown. But even then, we didn’t return to all our traditions. I don’t know if Pastor Cheryl knew that reaching across the aisles and holding hands had been our custom before Covid, but the second she asked us to hold hands, the gaps between us closed. I was almost giddy to return to this tradition. I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude.

Holding hands with my church community symbolized the connection we share. We share strong and abiding relationships that we’ve built over the sixteen years since our family moved to Texas. We may not agree completely on every single specific question of faith or politics, but we share a bond based on God’s love. We’ve spent countless hours talking, laughing, learning, and serving together. We’ve experienced some difficult times together as well. We’ve cried through grief. We’ve disagreed. But we’ve forged ahead through the tough parts of the journey and continued to be faithful to God and one another. We are a family, plain and simple. 

But I don’t know that I tell my church family how grateful I am for them on a regular basis. They do so much to make our church run smoothly. We are a relatively small congregation, so everyone has a function and role to play. Without everyone’s participation, we couldn’t worship well, educate our children, care for our members, or manage the church’s business. We also wouldn’t be able to serve others through our mission work. We like to say that we are small but mighty when it comes to helping people. We wouldn’t be a sanctuary for all who walk through our doors if we weren’t tied together by God’s love. 

In a passage from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth, he compares the church community to our physical bodies, in which each body part plays a designated role so that the body functions as a unit. “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. God has put the body together… so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:12, 24-27). 

While these verses are familiar, when I read them this time, the phrase “its parts should have equal concern for each other” jumped out at me. This is not always easy to accomplish, but when we find that synergy in which our relationships are built on a foundation of God’s love, we can share that love among ourselves equally and then give that love to others. God’s love is not limited and ours doesn’t have to be either. 

I don’t share our church’s story to boast, but to remind myself to be thankful and not take anyone for granted. To appreciate the community that God has built and encourage everyone to search for a community in which God’s love is at the core of the relationships. God welcomes us into relationship with him no matter who we are or what our individual story is. I pray we all find a faith family that will do the same. Thanks be to God.  

Mistakes – We All Make Them


The Dallas Mavericks played the Brooklyn Nets this past Monday night. Jed and Ben went to the game, but because it started late, 8:45pm on a school night, Alex, Clay, and I stayed home. Clay had a 6:30am wakeup call time for basketball practice the next morning, but that didn’t stop he and I from watching the end of the late game after Alex fell asleep. It was going down to the wire: the Mavs were three points ahead when we fouled the Nets’ Kevin Durant as he went to shoot a three pointer. The plan had been to foul him before his shot was in motion, but Durant is too smart for that and began his shot as our player grabbed his arm. That meant he had three free throws.

 As KD stood at the line, the announcers told us that he’d made 62 free throw shots in a row. That number is insane – 62 free throws! The assumption was that Durant would make all three shots and tie up the game, so the question was what the Mavs’ strategy should be after that inevitability. Durant hit his first shot as expected. Then, Durant, the man who has ice in his veins, missed the second shot. Simply missed it. Clay and I screamed. We couldn’t believe it. KD, who is known to be unflappable and clutch in the last seconds of any game, had choked. He missed the third shot on purpose so that his team could try to get the rebound and put it back up to tie. But the Mavs got the rebound and won the game. Even though we were happy our team won, Clay said, “I feel kind of bad for KD.”

Kevin Durant made a mistake at a crucial moment in a game and broke his streak of successful shots. Honestly, I was glad to witness it. Not because I wanted KD to fail, even though it benefited our team, but because it reminded me that we all make mistakes. Some are small and inconsequential, and some are bigger and reverberate longer, causing more hardship. But either way, none of us are immune from making mistakes. 

And yet, we often react to mistakes by beating ourselves up instead of giving ourselves a break. When I say something or act in a way that is not consistent with how I want to be in the world, I revisit the scenario over and over, thinking about what I wished I’d done. I overanalyze and tell myself that I’m a failure. It takes a long time for me to overcome the regret and shame. Maybe overcome is too strong of a word. Some of the mistakes I’ve made even though not overly egregious will haunt me forever. 

So, what do we do when we’ve owned up to our mistakes and have taken responsibility but can’t dismiss the fact that we made the mistake in the first place? I think one way to help ourselves is to believe we can and will do better the next time. The problem with dwelling on the mistakes we’ve made is that we decide, consciously or unconsciously, that they are indicative of our character. We make a million choices that are right and good, and we don’t give ourselves credit because that was what we were “supposed” to do. But when we make mistakes, instead of giving ourselves grace for the screw up, we may absorb it into our minds and bodies and tell ourselves the falsehood that “These mistakes prove I’m a bad person.” In most circumstances that is far from the truth. Just because we make a mistake does not mean we are forever flawed or rotten at our cores. We must remind ourselves that making mistakes is human and that we can make better choices. We have the power to decide how we view our mistakes. That is a hard truth for me to accept, but my hope is we can give our mistakes their due without using them to cut our self-esteem to the quick.  

Kevin Durant was not happy with himself the other night. He said, “I went up there and missed one. It sucks. Nothing much else I can say about it.” But he didn’t decide he was a bad basketball player as a result. Instead, he scored 29 points the next game. Let’s decide our next mistake will be an opportunity to learn how we want to act in the future, not a permanent indictment of our character.

Coachable or Not?


My son Jed, a junior in high school, and my son Clay, an eighth grader, are gearing up for their school basketball seasons. My husband Ben sent them a tweet from Coach Jon Beck that said, “Three types of athletes: uncoachable – do the bare minimum/doesn’t listen or communicate; somewhat coachable – will give some effort/occasionally listens/rarely communicates; completely coachable – never stops working/determined to improve & won’t accept less/great communicator.” This was a great reminder to my boys about how to be coachable and strive for success on the court and in life. We want and expect our kids to be coachable and teachable. But I started wondering, do we reach a point as adults when we become uncoachable?  

In school, in college, and in our early working life, most of us try to gather knowledge and work to master certain concepts. But sometimes, as we mature, we become more “set in our ways,” as the saying goes. We stand firm in our beliefs based on what we’ve been taught combined with our experiences, and we don’t waver. In some ways, that sounds good because we know our own minds and aren’t easily swayed. In other ways, though, this is when we become uncoachable. We do the bare minimum, in that we don’t investigate, analyze, or think critically about what’s going on in the world. We don’t have an open mind to receive new information. We won’t listen to other people’s opinions or their life experiences. 

Our vision can become myopic, worried about what is right in front of us, instead of caring about the wider population and their needs. We can develop an “us against them” mentality and dive into fear and defensiveness. We don’t communicate with anyone except those who believe the same way we do. Our knee-jerk reaction is to reject change without wondering about the reasons for the change or who is asking for it.  

When we become uncoachable, we become closed off to the possibilities that life has more to teach us. That God has more to teach us. In one of the familiar stories in the Bible, the “children were brought to Jesus in the hope that he would lay hands on them and pray over them. The disciples shooed them off. But Jesus intervened: ‘Let the children alone, don’t prevent them from coming to me. God’s kingdom is made up of people like these.’” (Matt. 19:13-14 (MSG)). We want our children to soak up knowledge and experience and revel in the delight of learning more about things and people. Maybe God wants us to be like children in that way. To come to God and ask for insight into how God sees the world. To open our hearts and minds and realize that God is constantly at work and wants us to love and care for all of God’s people. To be aware that we don’t know everything and need God’s guidance. 

Perhaps we should realize that being uncoachable is undesirable. Instead, listen and communicate, and attempt to improve our understanding of others. God is always available to coach us in God’s ways. Let us strive to be completely coachable.